Because Central Alberta is traditionally a centre of mixed farming, broad-based farming organizations have long had a particularly strong appeal in this region.
The very first farm organization in Red Deer was the Red Deer Agricultural Society, which was founded in 1891. While its primary purpose was the organization of an annual Red Deer Fair, it became active in a number of other areas as well.
It organized meetings and lectures to help educate farmers on better farming practices. It imported purebred bulls to help improve local breeding stock. It assisted in the formation of statute labour and fire districts, the first forms of rural local government. It lobbied government on a number of agricultural issues.
After the turn of the last century, Central Alberta experienced a phenomenal surge of new settlers. The numbers of those filing new land claims doubled and then doubled again. In May 1905, the Red Deer Land Office recorded the highest number of new homestead entries in all of Canada.
Soon, new broad-based farm organizations began to be organized. The first was the Alberta Farmers Association. First created in the Edmonton area in December 1905, the A.F.A. focused on the advocacy of farm interests and the creation of cooperatives to improve farm incomes.
The A.F.A. quickly spread across Central Alberta. A Pine Lake local was formed in February 1906. This was quickly followed in April with the creation of a Red Deer branch. Joseph Cole was elected the first president, but soon stepped down and was replaced by James Bower.
As the Alberta Farmers Association gained ground in the region, another group, the Central Alberta Stock Growers Association, was organized in July 1906. This new organization sought to represent the interests of small and medium-sized livestock producers.
The founding president of the C.A.S.G.A. was George Root, whose Spruce Bluff Farm was located just south of the current site of Eastview Middle School in Red Deer.
By 1908, there was widespread discussion of amalgamating the provincial farm organizations into one large umbrella group. In particular, the Alberta Farmers Association entered into serious negotiations with the Canadian Society of Equity.
A special twelve-person commission was struck to negotiate the merger of the two groups. Six representatives were named by the A.F.A.; six by the C.S.O.E. Two of the A.F.A. appointees were from Red Deer – Henry Jamieson and Edwin Carswell. Another, E.J. Fream was from Innisfail.
In December 1909, the two groups amalgamated to form the United Farmers of Alberta. The first president of the U.F.A. was James Bower of Red Deer, while E.J. Fream was named the first secretary-treasurer.
While the Central Alberta Stock Growers Association did not formally affiliate with the U.F.A., so many of its members joined the new organization that the CA.S.G.A. quickly faded away.
Meanwhile, the United Farmers of Alberta quickly surged forward. In its first year, its membership nearly doubled, from 2100 to more than 4000. Over the next two years, the membership rolls doubled again.
The U.F.A. pushed the creation of cooperative livestock marketing associations. The Red Deer Livestock Co-op was formed in November 1909 and concentrated on the sale of hogs. It proved to be such a success that it became the model for livestock marketing co-ops across Western Canada.
Following the First World War, the U.F.A. decided to become directly involved in politics. In July 1921, the U.F.A. swept to power as the Alberta government. Representatives of the U.F.A. were later elected as MPs in every Alberta constituency except one.
In 1935, the U.F.A. withdrew from politics. Over the succeeding years, it has increasingly concentrated on its cooperative commercial ventures, particularly its farm supply outlets and petroleum fuel agencies.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian. His column appears on Wednesdays.